Before they'd entered the "Be A Guitar Hero" contest, the band had heard of the game but never played it, says John Wator, lead guitarist. "We spend all our time traveling around," he explains. "We don't really have a lot of time for videogame stuff."
They'd only heard about the competition from a friend, who forwarded them the Harmonix email explaining the contest rules. Intrigued, Wator submitted "Raw Dog," but he figured nothing would come of his entry, since the odds were stacked so high against the band. But sure enough, "Raw Dog" blew everyone at Harmonix and RedOctane away.
As part of the winner's package, The Last Vegas traveled to New York City to conduct press interviews and test drive their song in Guitar Hero II. Initially, Wator was shocked. "Honestly, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. You think, 'Well, I wrote the song, I shouldn't be that bad!'" he laughs. "I was just on the middle level, too. There's definitely some people out there who will blow me away playing the game."
"It's really fun, though," he adds. "Definitely up my alley." I ask him what the band liked best about the game, and he replies, "Chad [the lead singer] was a big fan of 'Shout at the Devil,' but personally, I enjoyed any song that let you use the whammy bar a lot."
Wator laments that the indie scene is difficult to escape, and for most bands, mainstream success will always be elusive. Still, he's cautiously optimistic about the Guitar Hero II exposure. "When you're on this level, it's really hard to get out to new people, especially younger kids, because they can't come out to a lot of clubs that we play," he says. "Now you get this opportunity, where people might not even be looking to find a new band, and they come across something that perks their ears and makes them think, 'Hey, that's kind of cool.'"
As of press time, the launch publicity boom hasn't hit The Last Vegas just yet, but Wator can't wait. "Pretty much the whole experience of this has been great," he says. "Anytime you get something like this that can open more doors, that's pretty exciting."
Tommorow's Guitar Heroes
Lange affirms that as long as the Guitar Hero franchise continues, it will definitely include indie bands. "We're always going to support the indie scene," he says. "The indie scene is where most great bands start."
As the Guitar Hero franchise moves to the next-gen systems, particularly the Xbox 360, online content distribution may prove surprisingly promising for future indie bands. Some of the material that couldn't fit into Guitar Hero II's final release will appear on Xbox Live - including, suggests Lange, maybe a few tracks from the companies' indie archives. "We're still planning everything out," he says, "but with downloadable content, we can do a lot."
As for the indie bands themselves, both Johnson and Wator were impressed by how accessible Guitar Hero is for non-musicians. Johnson says he likes how the games inspire people who've never picked up a guitar in their lives. "It's opened up so many avenues for people to really get back into rock 'n' roll," he says. "To pick up a guitar and mess around with it, and turn yourself into a guitar hero."
Freelance journalist Lara Crigger, whose previous work for The Escapist includes "Playing Through the Pain" and "The Milkman Cometh," had way too much fun writing this article. She plays a mean Expert-level "Symphony of Destruction."